by Larry Smith
Disagreement in politics is par for the course. It is nothing unusual. Political parties incorporate individuals with differing views on a variety of issues, who join a broad coalition to pursue their common interests.
Let’s look at the record since the 1960s:
The PLP split for the first time in 1965 when Lynden Pindling and others agreed on a radical (for the time) approach to challenge the white minority government - by throwing the parliamentary mace out of the window to a waiting throng of supporters.
More conservative elements in the party (led by Paul Adderley and Orville Turnquest) refused to go along with the Black Tuesday protests, and ended up as the National Democratic Party, which was wiped out at the polls in 1967. The PLP, by contrast, received a major boost and was able to form a government in 1967.
In 1970 the PLP split again, when Education Minister Cecil Wallace Whitfield resigned dramatically at the party's convention in the British Colonial Hotel. He later led seven PLP MPs in a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Pindling. This action led to the formation of the Free National Movement, and eventually to a major realignment of Bahamian politics.
Readers may be more familiar with what happened to Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham when they were up and coming members of the Pindling cabinet in the mid-1980s. Both men disagreed with the government’s soft approach in dealing with systemic corruption related to drug trafficking. And both were summarily fired by Lynden Pindling as a result.
They were later expelled from the PLP, and spent a few years in the wilderness before deciding what direction their political careers would take. As we all know, Ingraham became leader of the FNM in 1990 (anointed by a dying Cecil Wallace-Whitfield), while Christie rejoined the PLP (earning him the nickname, “vomit”). Both went on to become prime minister more than once.
In 1998 the PLP suffered another body blow when Dr Bernard Nottage, after losing a leadership bid to Christie, resigned in a huff to form the Coalition for Democratic Reform—the most significant attempt at a new party since the 1970s. But the CDR was a total failure in the 2002 general election, and disbanded soon after, with Nottage returning to the PLP no further ahead than he was before leaving.
During the FNM’s second term in office, senior cabinet ministers Algernon Allen, Pierre Dupuch and Tennyson Wells were fired for publicly attacking their boss - Hubert Ingraham. They accused the prime minister of rigging the FNM leadership contest in favour of Tommy Turnquest. And they became unabashed apologists for Christie’s PLP - before disappearing from the political landscape forever.
The 2002 poll was the electoral high point up to that time for candidates not drawn from the two major parties. Independents and small parties collectively won 7.5 per cent of the vote, but that was largely because the PLP had refrained from opposing the ex-FNM incumbents (Wells, Allen and Dupuch).
During the last FNM administration there were two major intra-party disagreements.
In 2008, Kenyatta Gibson, the PLP member for Kennedy, crossed the floor calling Perry Christie a “reptilian, cowardly bully” whose word counted for nothing. And Bran McCartney testily resigned his post as a junior minister in 2010, citing disagreements with Hubert Ingraham.
As a young and attractive candidate, McCartney was courted by both the PLP and others before opting in 2011 to lead a new small party that had significant financiers - the Democratic National Alliance. He lost his seat in the general election the following year, but the DNA managed to win 8.5 per cent of the overall vote. This had the effect of unseating Hubert Ingraham and sending him into retirement.
Meanwhile, the National Development Party had been formed in 2008, led by Renward Wells, an engineer, and Andre Rollins, a dentist. But Rollins was able to attract only 72 votes in the 2010 Elizabeth bye-election, so both he and Wells decided to throw in their lot with the PLP in the 2012 general election.
The PLP advertised their fresh young faces during the campaign as evidence of new blood in the party. But it wasn’t long before both of them fell foul of the old guard leadership.
In Wells’ case, the genie is still in the bottle because he presumably knows things about the infamous letter of intent that could prove damaging to the PLP leadership if he was ever put in a position to tell. As a result, he has managed so far to get away with flipping the bird at the party leadership.
Rollins, whose rewards for joining the PLP were appointments as party whip and gaming board chairman, began his political disobedience campaign in 2013 by arguing publicly against the government’s gaming policies. This was despite the fact that his role as board chairman was to implement those policies.
He followed this up by vociferously attacking the constitutional amendments on women’s rights, and eventually voting against the Bills going to committee. In this case, he had the sense to resign as government whip before he voted against the party line.
Rollins also sharply questioned the government's VAT legislation. And during the debate, he expressed anger over the fact that the prime minister had spent most of his time "threatening” backbenchers like himself for their dissenting views. He then called for “new political leadership” in the country.
After this direct challenge, he was fired from the gaming board by acting prime minister Philip Davis - while Christie was celebrating his birthday 2,000 miles away in Las Vegas.
In spite of this long (and necessarily abbreviated) history of intra-party disagreements, the Rollins saga has attracted effusive and salacious reporting.
On Monday, the Guardian’s Candia Dames said Rollins had taken aim at the prime minister “in a manner that stunned many, leaving some calling for his political head and others applauding his courage and vigour…He has presence and charisma, and is admired for his fearless stand on issues.”
Punch columnist Nicki Kelly said Rollins appeared to be “a man in a hurry to make his mark politically and unhappy that his talents have not been sufficiently recognised and rewarded within the PLP.”
And Big T columnist Adrian Gibson characterised the young dentist as a “defiant MP” who had “embraced true Westminster politics,” and was doing “what the opposition should be doing.”
On social media, posters seemed fascinated by the prospect of a change in the static political trench warfare. There is a view that Rollins is "channeling the frustrations, ideas and desires of a new generation of Bahamians”. But is he really?
It does not seem to me that Rollins has any particular political strategy. He is just expressing defiance. And by personalising his disagreements with the prime minister so sharply, he has voided any chance of influencing the power structure of the party of which he is currently a member. Senior PLPs like George Smith are already calling for his scalp.